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gloved hand holding a forensic DNA result

For decades, scientists have used ever-improving DNA forensics to help solve crimes and detect suspects in cold cases such as the Golden State Killer. But it has never been quick work: Laboratory analyses of genetic evidence can take weeks, even months to complete.

That could all change, if private companies succeed in widely marketing a device called “Rapid DNA.”

The printer-sized boxes, costing up to $250,000 apiece, can analyze a sample of blood, saliva or other biological matter in about 90 minutes, and they have a number of potential applications. A machine developed by Colorado-based ANDE Corp. helped identify victims of the 2018 Paradise fire and the more recent Conception dive boat disaster.

But it is the prospective use of Rapid DNA in criminal investigations that is setting off alarm bells. Both privacy advocates and some forensic scientists fear police will abuse the technology to test people without their informed consent, or to mishandle evidence that could compromise prosecutions.

“There is no question that getting faster DNA results is good for everyone in the criminal justice system,” said... see more